You and Your Enemies
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Matthew 5:43-48
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Matthew 5 which will be our text for this morning. I will read it to begin our time in God's word here today. Matthew 5:43-48. After about I think it's 28 or 29 messages, we come to the conclusion of this one chapter and what a great chapter of Scripture it is. Matthew 5, beginning in verse 43,
43 You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
These are famous words of Jesus, this idea of loving your enemies. It's less famous and less well observed to see people actually doing it, I would say, certainly not within the world and even within the church; the aspirations of this passage are things of which we fall quite short of. What we need to do today is we need to do, as we just sang, we need to let the Lord speak to us through his word, let him rebuke us and correct us as he sees fit, and to address our lives at a very important heartfelt level.
As we've said many times, what is happening here in Matthew 5:21 through 48 is that Jesus is illustrating the greater principle that he stated in verse 20. Look at verse 20 with me of Matthew 5, he says that, "I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." Now, the entire Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7, is framed by the fact that Jesus is teaching what the life of true repentance looks like. In Matthew 4:17, it says that Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and that theme carries over and is designed to be the framework through which we understand the entire Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount, in other words, is not describing what you do in order to go to heaven, the Sermon on the Mount is describing the life that flows from someone who has repented and received Christ as King and there is a huge difference to that.
You can approach this passage and say, "Okay, here's what I need to do to go to heaven. I need to love my enemies and I need to not be angry and I need to not lust in my heart," and as you go on you would start to realize, "But I'm not like that." You see, the reality of the Sermon on the Mount, the reality of Jesus' teaching here is it holds before us a standard that the unsaved man could never meet and it is nothing short of heresy, as Martyn Lloyd Jones often makes the point in his work on the Sermon on the Mount, it is nothing short of heresy to hold the Sermon on the Mount before an unsaved man and say, "Live this way," because it is impossible for an unsaved man to live this way. It is impossible for him to show forth the very character of God in his life because he is dead in sin and he is dominated by the devil and he is under the wrath of God. An unsaved man cannot live this way. The Sermon on the Mount simply condemns men for the fact that they fall short of the perfect character of God. Rather what the Sermon on the Mount, what Jesus is doing here is he is setting forth the aspirations of the heart and what we as his people, we as those who are members of the kingdom, we who belong to him, have been redeemed by him, this is the aspiration of life that we are to pursue after.
And what you find is this: is that it is a life that is completely different from your prior life. The life in the kingdom is completely different from the life that animates life in the world. The world does not prosecute people for simply being angry. They will prosecute them for murder. The world doesn't prosecute people for lust in the heart, but God does. And you go on and on and you realize that the standard of God is so much higher than that which is in the world and so the world doesn't even aspire after this, doesn't even recognize the beauty of it. What Christ says is, "This is life in my kingdom," and it's a life of the heart, it's a life of attitudes, it's a life of responding to circumstances and to people that God brings into your life, and Jesus is bringing this out in the most searching of the final of six illustrations here in the passage that we just read. This is not natural, what he is saying, and yet he is saying, "This is what is required of those who are in my kingdom." So we're going to try to work through the tension of that as we go through the passage here today.
Well, let's look first of all as Jesus introduces this, let's look at what he was talking about, what frames the discussion and that is the Pharisees' distortion of love. The Pharisees' distortion of love. That's the first point if you're taking notes here this morning. The Pharisees' distortion of love. Throughout this section of Scripture, Matthew 5:21 through 48, Jesus has been setting forth the prevailing teaching of the Pharisees as it existed at that time, those who were viewed as the most godly, the most honorable people by the Jews, and he shows that they had everything completely wrong and they had taken God's word and distorted it into something that it did not mean. They had pulled it down, they had pulled the standard of righteousness down to something human that they could meet and something that they distorted to their own purposes and they did this on this command that Jesus quotes in Matthew 5:43. Look at it with me where he said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,'" quoting from Leviticus 19:18.
Now, the Pharisees taught this verse but they taught it in a way that it completely distorted what it meant. Leviticus 19:18 says, "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD." Now, it's obvious to us standing in light of New Testament revelation and the teaching of Christ over the past 2,000 years, it's obvious to us that the emphasis of this verse is on the responsibility to love, to give of yourself, to sacrifice of yourself for the people around you. That's the obvious intent of that passage even in the Old Testament. The Pharisees, however, twisted it. They changed the emphasis of it in a way that made it so that they said the main thing for you to do is to love your neighbor, to love the people that you get along with, to get along with those that you are close with, and they extrapolated from that distortion the fact – this is a sign of how twisted they were – that you should hate your enemy. Love your neighbor but hate your enemy.
And how would they justify that from the Old Testament Scriptures? Well, they would say things like this, "Remember that, after all, God had Israel wage war on the nations. Remember that some of the Psalms call for God's judgment on Israel's enemies." And it gave a certain plausibility to their argument. To hate your enemy, "Remember that our forefathers," speaking as a Jew in the first century looking back on the history of Israel, "You know, our forefathers went to war against their enemies and therefore we reason down from that that that's what we do on a personal level." And Jesus here is correcting it with what he says. But do you know what? Even on Old Testament grounds, the Pharisees were mistaken. In the wars of Israel and Judah, in the imprecatory Psalms, those Psalms where the psalmist calls forth judgment on the enemies of God, understand this, beloved: Israel in those times and in those historical occurrences, they were acting as an instrument of God's judgment on God's enemies. They were acting as an instrument of God's judgment on enemy nations that were full of idolatry and had distorted everything about creation and so they were acting as instruments of God's judgment as he punished those people for the sins of their people against him. There is a vertical dimension to the judgment that was going on.
So for example, look at Psalm 139. You can see this set forth, this principle clearly, and it is so very important to distinguish between the enemies of God and the personal enemies that a man might have in his life. So in Psalm 139, a text which we know more for the first 16 verses, perhaps, than the last 7 or 8, in verse 19, David writes, "O that You would slay the wicked, O God; Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed." And watch as he is praying for judgment against the enemies, watch the reasons that motivate his prayer for judgment. In verse 20 he says, "For they speak against You wickedly, And Your enemies take Your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?" Do you see, beloved, do you see the God-centered focus of his concern as he prays this way? He says, "God, these are enemies against you. They take your name in vain. They hate you and therefore as one who loves you, I am opposed to them." It's not personal, it's vertical and so he says in verse 22, "I hate them with the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies." They are his enemies simply because they were first the enemies of God. They were opposed to God in their lives, in their words, and David says, "O God, act upon this."
Understand, beloved, understand that the core of David's prayer here is, "God, it pains me to see your name dishonored. It pains me to see your enemies violate your character and sin against you. And it pains me to see your name defamed on their profane lips because I love you, God, and I cannot bear to see you dishonored this way." That is what's driving him. That's what's driving the core of these Psalms as we studied many times on Tuesday nights. David is animated about those who are enemies of God, not himself. Such a big distinction. In fact, you can see this illustrated as you read the Old Testament. David reacted completely differently when his own name was insulted. You may remember in 2 Samuel 16 there is a man named Shimei who cursed David as he was passing by and he cursed David and David's servants wanted to cut off his head and what did David do in that instance where the offense was personal, where the offense was against him and where his own name was being slandered? David called his men off and refused to let them act upon their impulse. They wanted to honor their king. David said, "No, it's not about me." And he said these words in 2 Samuel 16, he said, "Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him. Perhaps the LORD will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day." He had the authority as king and his men wanted to do it, to send them out and to vindicate his own name against the personal insult that had been made against him in 2 Samuel 16, verses 12 and 13, if you want to look it up later. The point being here, beloved, that you need to see is that when you look at the Old Testament pattern of these matters, you find the people of Israel acting against the enemies of God, you find the psalmist praying imprecations against the enemies of God and that is the godly pattern, that we are jealous for his name, that we are jealous to protect the honor of God and the integrity of his word and, yes, we'll be animated about that and we'll run to the battle when God's name and God's word is at stake.
Beloved, you must make a very sharp distinction in your mind and in your understanding when it is your name and your reputation at stake. You handle that differently. That is where you have your opportunity to set aside pride, to crucify pride, to set it aside and say, "No, if it's my name at stake, I can let the insult pass." The Pharisees looked at that and said, "You have insulted me. I'm going to strike you back." David said, "When my name is at stake, I'll just commit myself to Christ. I'll just commit myself to God, ask him to vindicate me. I'll leave it to myself. I won't take up arms on my own behalf."
And, you see, that's the distinction. We have far fewer people, generally speaking about the church at large, not talking about you in particular so much here. I'll let the Spirit of God apply that to your heart as he sees fit. We have far more people anxious and eager to vindicate their own name against insults and quite content to let the name of God go slandered, to let the ways of God, to let the word of God be attacked and to let that go and not get too worked up about that, after all, we want to tolerate each other, right? We need to be people of tolerance. So the spirit of tolerance allows the name of God to be slandered and defamed and dishonored but when it comes to personal relationships, go try to insult somebody on the street and you'll find where their heart is at as they strike back at you, right? And what Scripture is teaching us as the people of God, now I'm bringing it into this room, what Scripture is saying to you, what Christ as Lord is saying to you through his word here today, is that you must realize that you are to flip that entirely, that your zeal would be for Christ, your zeal would be for his word, that your zeal for the honor of God is what would animate your life in a way that allows you to recede into the background and say, "I don't need to defend myself. When my reputation is attacked, I don't immediately have to strike back. I can commend myself to God." Well, the Pharisees had that all wrong. They took that which was about the glory and zeal of God and zeal for God, and turned it into an excuse to be close with their friends and to be hostile to their enemies and Jesus steps into that environment which we all know too well within the fields of our own heart, and says, "You've got to flip that around. You have to turn it around and understand what the reality is."
And what we find here, beloved, what we find here is this: you know, if we would all just start our thinking vertically, if we would keep Christ at the forefront of our thinking rather than our own circumstances, all of these things would be so self-evident to us. Who is Christ and what has he done? Well, what has he done for you as a Christian? Were you not a sinner and a rebel against God? Weren't you a slave to false religion? Didn't you go after other gods? Didn't you serve yourself with your life? Didn't you violate God's laws at will without any real regard for his holiness? Weren't you dead and indifferent to his word? Weren't you dead and indifferent to fellowship with the people of Christ? I know I was, looking back on my complete indifference to the word of God, my complete indifference to the name of Christ. You know, there was a time in my life before I was a Christian, I couldn't even say the words Jesus Christ. I could not spit them out of my mouth, so hostile was my heart toward him. And in one degree or another, you were all like that as well. It might have manifested differently in your own experience, in the way that your rebellion against God manifested itself, maybe in false religion, maybe in indifference, maybe in a wild profligate life, maybe just being so cold and cynical that you wouldn't even hear of it even though you maintained a cool outer appearance. All of that is a manifestation. They are different manifestations of the same core hostility against God, aren't they? False religion is hostility against God. Indifference is hostility toward God. Sin and a life of outward immorality is hostility toward God. You have to trace it all back to the common root and say, "Why is life like this?" It's hostile to God, and we were all there. We were all like that in one degree or another.
Now then, what was Christ like to us in our condition? How did Christ deal with you in your condition of sin? Well, we know from our studies in systematic theology on Tuesday nights that before time began, God purposed to be gracious to us despite our sin. God purposed to save us before time began. That knowing in advance our hostility against him, he purposed to love us and to show kindness toward us, didn't he? And what did Christ do? This is a Triune argument here that we are making. What did Christ do? Christ left the glories of heaven, humbled himself from the glories of heaven and the adoring worship of angels, humbled himself and came down to earth, born of a virgin, walking as a man among men, knowing all the while that his footsteps were taking him to Jerusalem, taking him to the place where he would be crucified. Why? Why? Because he loved us. Because he intended to give himself up for us. Do you see the utter incongruity of this? Do you realize that in response to your sin Christ took the initiative to show love like that for you? In an attitude of total self-denial, total self-rejection, total self-sacrifice, walks and willingly gives himself for you on the cross of Calvary, in an act of love for you who were his enemy. Scripture says, Romans 5:8, while we were yet enemies, Christ died for us. This is how Christ responds to his enemies like you and me, he loves them and gives himself up for us.
Do you see, beloved, now that we belong to Christ, now that you have – well, let's not forget the Triune nature of what I'm trying to say here. Christ did that 2,000 years ago. What did the Spirit of God do in your life in time in the course of your lifetime, those of you that are in Christ? What did he do? Somehow he brought the Gospel to you through a book, through a newspaper, through a friend, through a preacher, through a radio program, through a TV program. Somewhere along the line you heard the Gospel message that God is holy and you are sinful, that Christ has made provision for sinners just like you. He gave himself on a cross, he was buried, he was raised from the dead, and now showing forth the power of God, that he has made payment for sin you could have all of your sins forgiven, you could go to heaven if you would receive Christ and turn from sin and put your faith in Christ. You could have new life, forgiveness of sin and the hope of heaven. And somehow, someway, in some manner, however imperfectly it came to you, the Holy Spirit brought that to you, opened your mind to understand it and turned your will so that you gladly received Christ. You were born again and new life flowed out of that, didn't it? You became somebody new. You became a new man, a new woman with new desires and a new life, and for the first time you were able to open the word of God, read it and understand it and have it make sense to you in a way that wasn't true before. That's what true salvation is, isn't it?
So you look back, beloved, look back on the way that God has dealt with you. Before time began, he chose you. Long before you were born, Christ gave himself for you. And in the course of your life, at some time the Holy Spirit came and did a work in your heart in order to make these things real and to bring you into God's family and now you stand as children of God, adopted into his family, headed on a sure path that leads to heaven. That's what God did for you though you were an enemy of his. Do you realize that when you step back and think about it from that perspective, do you realize that if you now are in the family of God, if you are now a disciple of Christ, if you now belong to the one who loved you like that, isn't it obvious, isn't it apparent, isn't it the moving force of your heart that how God dealt with me is the kind of person that I should become? How God dealt with me is the way that I should deal with people on a horizontal level? How God dealt with me when I was his enemy is how I should somehow reflect dealing with my own? This turns the whole nature of thoughts about vengeance and retaliation and anger and long-standing grudges and bitterness on their head. All of a sudden you have no justification for that kind of heart attitude toward anyone. You have no excuse to think that way, to be that way. You cannot be that way because a greater person than you, God himself, has shown a greater love on a greater sinner than anything that would be at stake in your own personal life.
And that's what Christ is bringing to our mind as he calls us to biblical love, our second point. Christ's call to biblical love here. Look at it here in verse 44 as he sets forth the contrast. He says, "But I say to you." Once again, Christ speaking on his own authority, Christ speaking to his people, speaking to his disciples and saying, "This is how I command you to be. This is how I want you to be. This is what life in my kingdom is like." Now, isn't it obvious that if Christ has made us members of his kingdom, isn't it obvious that if we belong to him, if we are sons of God through faith in Christ, isn't it obvious then, beloved, isn't it obvious that there would be a carryover of the way God dealt with you into the way that you think about all of your relationships? It frames everything that you think about every relationship and especially in the matters of hostility.
Beloved, oh, you know, this starts with you seeing yourself properly. When you have a settled biblical understanding of the seriousness of your sin, then you will have a greater appreciation of the love of Christ that saved you from it, and because of that you are less inclined to have a sense of self-protection and saying, "I've got to get mine. You can't do that to me. Don't you know who you are messing with?" I have friends, I have people I know who talk that way. "You don't mess with me." Oh my goodness, please. What's so special about you that you would talk that way? When you realize the greatness of your sin and you realize that a greater love and a greater forgiveness has come to you, then it overturns everything and it makes you think differently about the personal wrongs that you are inevitably going to face as you walk through life. Jesus is addressing that and by his own authority he says, "I am commanding you, this is what you must be as my disciple." This is not optional. This is a command from Christ.
He says, look at it there in verse 44 with me, he says, "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Who is our enemy? Somebody who is hostile to us. It could be the Islamic fundamentalists who like to cut off the heads of those who criticize Mohammed. It could be at that level. It could be less dramatic and involve somebody who has hurt you and irritated you, somebody who has wronged you. It doesn't diminish the fact that the wrong was real and actual. That's not the question, the question is what's the response for the disciple of Christ? What's the response of a Christian? And Jesus here is laying out in clear and unmistakable terms that there is a higher virtue, there is a higher character that animates his people than anything that is found in the world and we aspire after that because we are the beneficiaries of a love that was like that to our own souls.
So what is the Christian response? Jesus says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," and he breaks this down to how does this apply? He breaks it down into two parts: first of all, he says to do good to them. Look at verse 45 with me. Verses 44 and 45, he says, "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." How do you do good to them? Here's your answer. I'm not going to give you some kind of silly illustration that doesn't apply in every circumstance. You think about these people who are hostile to you and you respond to them in a way that somehow profits them, that somehow helps them, that somehow makes things better for them. This is the way that God has dealt with us. He has acted toward us in a way that has profited us, profited us spiritually and eternally.
Scripture speaks of this in other areas. Romans 12, if you would turn back there. Romans 12, guarding your heart against the resentment that comes and being animated somehow by that which would somehow benefit that person. In Romans 12:17, you see Paul, as it were, expounding this same principle that Christ is teaching us here in Matthew 5. The Apostle Paul says, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." Then in verse 19 he says, "Never take your own revenge, beloved." I love the way that he injects that term of affection in the midst of instruction that he knows is difficult. "Never take your own revenge, beloved," remember, I'm on your side, Paul says as he says these things, "but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." So you see there in very simple terms the laying out of somehow do good for them even in the midst of their hostility against you. That's the standard. That's the call of Christ. And the form of Jesus' command here calls for a repeated action each time it comes up.
And there are ways without me belaboring illustrations, in your own situation if you will prayerfully consider things like this, it will occur to you, "I see ways that I could do good for this person." If it's a hostile boss, at least you do your job well. If it's a hostile neighbor, there are things you can do there, aren't there, that in simple, practical ways honor this principle. And you say, "But they don't deserve that." Okay, that's not at all the point. That's not at all the point. The personification of the problem is not the issue at all. The question for you as a disciple of Christ is: how is it that you will honor this command from your Lord to be this way? How is it that you will respond in a way that somehow reflects undeserved goodness to an enemy, remembering that you are on the receiving end of infinite undeserved goodness from God when you were an enemy of his? You see, the fundamental principle is not so much about individual circumstances or details, Jesus is inculcating in you an entire mindset about the way that you think about yourself in response to the God who has saved you and you say, "I have received oceans of mercy from this God who saved me, I can hand out a glassful of mercy to the person in front of me." It's the way that you think and the way that you carry this out. Love your enemies. Jesus says do good to them.
And there in verse 44 he also says to pray for them. Look at verse 44 with me, he says and pray for those who persecute you, for those who pursue you, for those who are harming you. Christ says you pray to God for their welfare. You pray to God that he would have the mercy on them that somehow reflects the mercy that he has had on you. And in the presence of God, in the presence of the memory of Christ and his work on the cross for you, in the presence of all of those wonderful things, all of a sudden the greatness of God toward you starts to shrink and diminish the hostility that someone human has shown to you. If they are unbelievers, pray for their salvation. If they are Christians, pray for their spiritual growth. And as you are doing so, beloved, understand that as you are responding and interacting with this matter, there is this profound opportunity laid before you by the providence of God, there is this profound opportunity laid forward before you for you to grow in intimacy and understanding of the sufferings of Christ. You say, "I have been wronged here." Okay. "I have done nothing wrong here." Okay. Neither had Christ. Neither had he. And your mind is drawn to the crucifixion when Christ himself, the ultimate innocent victim, the supreme one who did not deserve to suffer, the one who had never wronged anyone in anything that he had done, there suffering, hanging on the cross as those who put him there were mocking him, and in that hour of extremity, in the severity of that hour, as the wrath of God is about to fall upon him for the sins of everyone who would ever believe in him, suffering completely unjustly and suffering completely voluntarily and the hostility is right there in his face as he hangs in utter weakness, what is his prayer? "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing," Luke 23:44.
We love Christ for his exalted holiness. We have honored that here earlier in our service today. We have spoken of that, Dane opened with that. We honor him as King and that humbles us but, beloved, don't you understand, don't you see that even the humility of Christ, the gracious forgiving spirit of Christ, that humbles us too, doesn't it? Because we all know the motions of our own heart, we know the resentment that can rise up there, we know the bitterness that some of us carry and we see when we are brought face-to-face with Christ, we see that we are in the presence of someone where that is utterly absent, that there is none of that in his spirit as he is hanging on the cross. And we see this gracious forgiving spirit and we say, "That's what I'm supposed to be like," and that humbles us. And there should be a spirit welling up within your heart, welling up within mine as we see these things, and we say, "Lord, forgive me not only for the sins that I have committed against you, but forgive me for not being more like you in this way. Forgive me for not being more instantly gracious to those who irritate and offend me." We bow before the infinite majesty of Christ and we bow before the infinite mercy and grace that is found at his hand. And as you pray that way, you acknowledge, "Lord, if you were not like that, I would never have been saved. I would be judged eternally for my sin and the only thing that stood between me and hell was the fact that you are gracious like this and that you forgave an enemy of yours like me." When the roots of those truths sink deeply into your heart, then it starts to change the way that you respond to the hostile people around you. That's Jesus' entire point here today.
Now, so he says do good for them, pray for them. The very least that you can do, beloved, in one sense, let's put it this way: it doesn't take any resources for you to pray for the people that wrong you. It takes a spiritual exertion to set aside your hostile feelings toward them in order to do it with sincerity and that's the point that Christ is getting to in your heart.
Now, we've seen the Pharisees' distortion of biblical love, we've seen Christ's call to biblical love, do good for them, pray for them. It's all so simple. We could ask this question, third point, Jesus answers a third question, you could say: why should you love your enemies? Why should you love your enemies? Well, we've kind of set forth a Christological soteriological reason here today, meaning it is rooted in Christ and rooted in the nature of your salvation. Christ lays out other things in this section of Scripture as well to motivate you. You are to think about these things and Christ lays before you, why should you love your enemies? Well, consider the actions of God. Consider the actions of God.
Look at verse 45 where Christ says, "so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." A son is one who shares the nature of his father. Those of you that belong to Christ, you have God as your Father and your character is supposed to develop into one that reflects the nature of God himself. Having been saved by him and brought into his family, the whole purpose of salvation is that you would start to bear the family resemblance; that you would start to look like your Father. Just like the natural son often looks like his natural father, so the spiritual son looks like his spiritual Father. This is the way nature is supposed to work. This is the way the nature of salvation works.
Why should you love your enemy? Consider the actions of God. Consider what God does. In verse 45 Jesus says, "so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for," because, think about what God is like in light of this command. What does God do? How does God act? "He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Jesus' argument here is undeniable and it is also very plain and simple.
We have a beautiful day outside today, don't we? The sun is shining. It's going to be a gorgeous day when we step outside. As the people of God, we'll go out and we'll enjoy the lovely day that God has given to us. And do you know what? People who want nothing to do with Christ, nothing to do with God will go out and have the same enjoyment of the same beautiful day that we're going to enjoy here today. Why is that? It's not because God has forgotten about their sin, but it's because God is good to them even in their sin. And God indiscriminately shows common grace to his people: we enjoy a good meal, we enjoy human love, we enjoy the benefits of pleasant nature and God doesn't restrict that goodness simply to us, he gives it to all men, even those who would never have anything to do with his name. He allows even the unsaved to enjoy blessings in this life. He doesn't condemn sinners immediately as he could, but he shows patience. He lets them enjoy all manner of things in life. They experience good things that they do not deserve and Scripture says it comes from the hand of God to them. And Jesus' point here is, it's undeniable: if God treats his enemies that way, God measures out goodness to them, then Jesus says you need to be like your Father. You need to be like your God. He's like this, you be like that. You be like that even if, even if it's an ungrateful spouse, a disobedient child, a stingy boss, an inconsiderate coworker, a bad neighbor. Romans 5:8 again, "While we were enemies," this might be verse 10, "we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son." So Jesus lays forth this high and lofty reason: look at what God is like, therefore be like him.
Then he brings the argument home in a way that is even more humbling. It's humbling enough to think about Christ and all the goodness that he showed, Christ is like this to his enemies and that humbles us and we say, "Oh, I need to be like that. This is part of the call to Christian character." Then he goes even further and remember before we go to verses 46 and 47, remember that the Pharisees said love your neighbor and hate your enemies and Jesus takes that principle, that idea, and utterly decimates it when it comes to virtue. Look at what he says in verse 46 and 47. You consider not only the actions of God, you consider the actions of sinners in this realm to help you motivate and to understand.
He says in verse 46, "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" The tax gatherers were despised people in Israel. They were utterly despised by the Jews. Gentiles couldn't even enter into the inner court of the temple. They were outside, they were separate, they were people to be avoided. So you've got tax collectors who are this way and Gentiles who are not part of the favored race of the Jews, and Jesus says consider what they are like. A tax collector can love someone who loves him back. A Gentile loves his friends and is good to his friends. And the whole point of the kingdom of God is that you've been lifted into a higher realm. If you are only good to the people that are good to you and you are hostile to all of the others, where is the surpassing virtue of belonging to the kingdom of God? How are you any better than them? The rankest, most unregenerate person can be kind to the one who is kind to him. That doesn't take anything special. There is nothing supernatural about that. There is nothing that reflects the kingdom of God in that at all.
So we shouldn't congratulate ourselves on our kindness when that kindness is simply reserved to those who are good to us back. The manifestation of Christian virtue, of kingdom virtue, comes when you go into realms and manifest that kind of character to those who don't deserve it and which sinners would never do. We live in a world that thrives and loves and revels in revenge, in retaliation, in anger, and Christ calls you out of all of that and says, "You be completely different and don't let the world define what kind of person you become and don't justify your irritable bitter spirit by the fact that the world is like that. You're under a different standard. You're under a different Lord. You belong to a different kingdom." So remember verse 20 where we said, where Jesus laid forth the general principle: your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if you want to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Christ has called you to a greater standard, a higher standard, and you are to aspire after that. This is difficult. It's hard for me but it is the call of Christ on your life and it is the example of Christ and it is the way that he has dealt with you. This is undeniable. You cannot refuse this without refusing the Christ that calls you.
How do we sum all of this up? Look at verse 48, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Therefore summing up the whole prior section, the whole prior section of exceeding righteousness, not just avoiding murder but avoiding anger, not just avoiding adultery but avoiding lust, showing righteousness in issues related to marriage, in truthfulness, in the way that you speak and in this whole matter of loving your enemies. Therefore – watch this, I like to do stuff like this. Look at verse 20 with me. Here's the whole passage laid before you so that you can see the way the broad sections fit together. Jesus said, "I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." They have the outward appearance of righteousness but it's not real. He says, "Let me illustrate what I mean by that." Verses 21 through 47, six illustrations. Now he comes back. He circles back with 48 and closes the loop on verse 20 and says, "Therefore. In light of these six illustrations that have given you where I have laid out before you what this is like, here's the call on your life: you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. That your life is called not to match the external hypocrisy of the religious leaders that are around you, you are to have a higher aspiration, a higher aspiration going all the way into the throne room of who God himself is like." The standard for Christian character is nothing less than the perfect character of God in all of his love, all of his grace, all of his holiness, all of his honesty, all of his charity.
That's crushing. Are you like that? Which one of us is free from all anger? Free from all retaliation? Free from all lust? Free from all manifestations of dishonesty? Which one of us naturally responds to those who are hostile to us with grace and favor and overflowing generosity toward them? Which one of us is like that? I'll tell you. Which one of us is perfectly like that? Zero. There are none of us that are like that. We all fall short of this.
Beloved, in this passage it should be all plain to you all over again, aren't you glad that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners like you? That God showed love and mercy to one like you who falls so short of his character? That Christ spilled his blood to wash away all of your sin? That he obeyed God perfectly and now that perfect righteousness is that upon which and is the basis upon which you can approach God? Not in your own righteousness, not in the rags of your own goodness, but clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ? This passage shows forth to us the exalted standard of what it means to belong to the kingdom of God and simultaneously shows us our profound need for grace. And in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, that need for grace is answered and now that we are in his kingdom, that grace is what enables us to go beyond the external religion in order to be a reflection of our Father who has saved us.
Beloved, if you have believed in Christ, you are forgiven of the way that you fall short of the call of this passage. Bless his name for that but don't let that justify continuing longer in your sins of bitterness and grudges. Don't do that. If you realize that everything that Christ has said condemns you and convicts you and you are not a partaker of grace, Christ brought you here today to hear the blessed words that, "He who comes to Me I will never cast out." That even the depth of your sin can be forgiven. Christ invites you to come to him for exactly that purpose.
So, beloved, we see Christ and we worship him. We see the grandeur of his character that motivated him to save us and we respond with worship, gratitude and thanksgiving. We rejoice in him and having that position of strength established, we look at this passage, this great passage of Matthew 5 and we realize that now we go forth and sin no more.
Let's pray together.
Father, thank you for loving us in our sin. Thank you for placing within us the Holy Spirit who can conform us to the image of Christ. Lead us forth, Father, that having been saved by Christ we might grow into ever more worthy sons that reflect your character. In the name of Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.